It is increasingly becoming obvious that the two fastest growing endeavours in Nigeria today are churches and bars, at least in the Southern part of the country, where the Islamist fundamentalists, Boko Haram, are not bombing churches and bars.
If you have been observant, you will notice that the number of churches and bars in your neighbourhood has increased tremendously in the last five years.
Companies close shop and churches or bars take over their spaces. Until 2009 when the Central Bank of Nigeria came down hard on banks, they were the ones taking over every available space in Nigeria, so as to be called the biggest bank or the bank with the highest number of branches.
These days, once a building or a piece of land is put up for sale or lease, chances are high that it is a church that will acquire it.
On the other hand, once a canopy is erected in front of a house on a central road or street in a neighbourhood, you can be sure that a new bar has sprung up where people will gather every evening to drink.
Even in early January when many people usually still try to keep a resolution not to drink alcohol, or when many people are still recovering from the high amount of money they spent during the Christmas/New Year period, such roadside bars are still filled with patrons every evening.
Interestingly, I have never seen any roadside bar that seems to be experiencing a lack of patronage, including those that operate beside dirty, stinking gutters.
Why are churches and bars booming at a time businesses are hurting and dying? Many reasons are responsible for this. First is that the Redeemed Christian Church of God’s vision of having a church within a walking distance of its worshippers seems to have thrown a challenge to other churches. Every church now also wants to have a branch close to its members.
Second, when all hope seems to be lost, the church provides hope to the faithful. The words of a minister reassure people that all is well no matter how dark the clouds are. Many pastors have also noticed that pastors who focus on prosperity have mammoth crowds; therefore, many of them have jumped on the bandwagon of prosperity preaching.
Those whose businesses are struggling or have collapsed, flock to churches in search of their own breakthrough. It is said that when an economy is buoyant or life is rosy, many people think less of God. It is when things are bad that many people remember God and need Him to help them.
There is also the fact that churches help their members find jobs, business, spouses, among others. Many people have such needs and they flock to churches to find solutions to these needs. Friends and contacts are also made in churches which prove useful in life. The more people troop to churches to solve these problems, the more churches expand.
In addition, many pastors lay special emphasis on tithing, and consequently use Malachi 3:10 to instil fear into their congregation. This portion of the Bible says that those who don’t pay their tithes rob God and will consequently receive hard times in all their endeavours, but those who pay their tithes will receive an open window from God, from which He will pour down His blessings upon them.
Even the older churches that never preached tithing have joined in preaching tithing as a compulsory Christian doctrine. In addition to tithing, many churches lay great emphasis on giving – seed-sowing, offering, seed of faith, covenant seed, dangerous giving, donation for special projects, etc – through which churches receive huge sums of money in comparison to what obtained in the past. This makes expansion easier.
Also in the past, being a priest was synonymous with poverty. It was seen as a calling, because only someone with a high conviction would choose the poverty, extreme self-denial, a life of service, risk and pain that were associated with priesthood. Priests were expected to live a life similar to that Jesus Christ and His apostles lived: a life of lack and service with no amassing of wealth or flamboyance. But given that many pastors are rich and flamboyant these days, being a pastor has become attractive.
Many young people are daily pouring into the seminary or Bible college that it is difficult to know those who had a divine call and those who are just changing businesses. The effect is that churches build more branches to find places for the large number of ministers, while individuals who don’t want to be part of any of the existing churches open their own churches in their neighbourhoods, thereby increasing the number of churches.
In the case of bars, it is a fact that when many people record achievements, they celebrate with alcohol; and when they are hit by hard times, they drink more alcohol in an attempt to drown their sorrow, even if temporarily. Many people simply bury their problems in alcohol: a kind of escapism. As people’s debt mounts, as they are unsure of how to pay the next rent or children’s school fees, many resort to alcohol.
Money problem is also a huge source of marital crisis. Rather than drive home to face the anger of their wives for several hours, many people prefer to hang out with their friends in bars and return home only when it is bedtime, cutting down on the period they will spend with their wives before sunrise when another working day beckons on them to escape from home again.
The more people seek to drink, the more owners of bars smile to the bank, and the more new bars open to attend to the need of more drinkers.
Ironically, in spite of the massive expansion in churches as well as a rise in religious activities in Nigeria, there is a drop in values, morality and godliness.
The Nigerian of today is less trusted internationally than the Nigerian of pre-1990. The Nigerian of today has a higher chance of demanding a bribe or giving a bribe or cheating another than the Nigerian of pre-1990.
It therefore points to the fact that the expansion in churches and rise in religiosity have little to do with spreading the gospel of God and more to do with pecuniary consideration. But that is not to say that there are not many men of God whose desire in church expansion is driven purely by a need to win souls who will be godly and therefore great citizens.
The bitter truth is that countries don’t become great as a result of an astronomical rise in churches and bars. That companies are folding up and churches and bars are growing should sound a warning to the government that all is not well with the Nigerian economy.
The economy needs to be revived so that those who want to worship God will worship Him in truth and spirit, not because of those material things that they believe they will get from Him, but because they are convinced that He is worthy to be worshipped. In the same vein, those who want to drink alcohol will drink it as a choice, not as an escapist mechanism from hard times.